intense aztec drummer DNC 2008

Can I Hear You Now?

A couple weeks ago I had a really stick neck, tightness in my jaw, and pain in my ear. I'm certain that all three of these were related, but I'm not sure which was causative. I'd spent a long weekend in a hot spring at the end of April, and my right ear had felt like it had water in it for a while after that, so I figured that might be involved.

After a difficult day at work due to on-and-off headaches due to the ear pain, I put hydrogen peroxide - urea drops in my ears and irrigated with a bulb. This had been the prescription 5ish years ago when I had some persistent ringing in my ears and an overabundance of earwax flushed out by a PA at my doctor's office. It had also worked wonders on my trip to California in February when my ears felt clogged, the pressure changes on the plane were intense, and I had trouble focusing in an all-day meeting because of headaches coming and going and noticeable tightness in my neck muscles.

The drops and irrigation seemed to help for a couple days, then two weeks ago Friday the dull headache quickly shifted into a "You will devote almost all of your attention to the sharp pain in the left side of your head." My task on Friday is reading interview packets and then participating in hiring committee. After struggling through the first packet I realized that there was no way I would be able to make it through another four hours of reading and talking with this level of pain, so I called my doctor's office and asked the meeting coordinator to hand off my other packets.

At the doctor's office, I rated my pain an 8 out of 10. An NP inspected my ears and irrigated with a fancy bottle and warm water, which was more effective than the bulb dropper. A rather large chunk of goo came out of my left ear, and after sitting still for a moment to readjust my balance I felt major relief, right back down to a 2 or so on the pain scale. She recommended using the hydrogen peroxide drops for 3–5 days to get residual wax out and I biked home. I felt so good when I got home that I messaged the coordinator and said "Hey, I can read again, can you give me a packet back?" In my history of injury and illness It's very rare that a treatment takes effect that immediately; even the morphine I got when I broke my arm took longer to kick in, and didn't dial things down that far.

The next day I had another intense ear headache after several hours playing Magic and sadly opted not to go out to see Godspeed You Black Emperor!, since the artful amplified distortion of post-rock didn't seem like a great idea when your ears already hurt. Back home to lie in bed with peroxide making popping sounds as it combats wax.

I didn't have any more sharp pain, but over the next several days my ears felt pretty clogged. At first I figured this was residual ear wax, but fingers and Q-tips weren't pulling much wax out. I have the perk of being married to an NP; Kelly looked in my ears with her otoscope and noted that she couldn't see my ear drums, but everything looked pretty inflamed. I called the doctor's office and got in to see another NP who confirmed that it didn't look like wax, but wasn't sure just what to do. Hypothesizing that it was bacterial, she prescribed ciprofloxacin drops in each ear twice a day (possibly to be combined with Flonaze to combat inflammation), then come back for another irrigation.

Cipro ear drops are apparently an infrequently used medicine. My usual King Soopers pharmacy didn't have any, and sent me to the Louisville location. After a day of taking the drops I realized there were only 14 dropperettes in the package, which only covers half a week for two ears twice a day. I called the pharmacy to get a refill, which led to a multi-hour adventure wherein I learned (a) the insurance company didn't want to authorize it, because the refill date was for after a week and (b) I'd apparently gotten the only box of this medicine at any King Soopers in the Denver area. Oh, and hey, it's Memorial Day weekend, so good luck ordering anything. Fortunately, these are solvable problems. I think the pharmacist was able to convince the insurance company that I'd only received a half-week dose (since apparently people usually only get an infection in one ear). The on-call doctor called in a "Yeah, totally get more of that" prescription, too. (And apparently King Soopers had a coupon that would've made the drug cheaper than going through insurance, if they'd had any in stock.) After a couple calls I found a Wallgreens that had a box in stock and they were able to transfer the prescription from King Soopers.

Ordinarily I would take the position "I'll just skip this drug on Memorial Day and get it sorted out on Tuesday and it doesn't seem to be making that big of a difference anyway." But stopping an antibiotic half-way through isn't usually a good idea, and "a colony of drug-resistant bacteria in your ears" is not an attractive idea when you've just spent two weeks having aural discomfort.

Through Memorial Day, I'd generally had one ear or the other clear enough to hear conversations accurately, though I didn't have great spatial localization and I could tell I wasn't getting the full spectrum from music. Starting Tuesday, both ears felt very clogged almost all of the time; I could have a conversation, but only if I positioned myself strategically and the other person spoke up. Assuming that this was just buildup of ear drops and inflammation residue, I eagerly awaited my followup appointment for irrigation.

On Thursday, the NP looked in my ears again and pulled out a black chunk and inspected it. She concluded that it wasn't ear wax and that the antibiotic treatment hadn't solved the problem, so I should go see an ENT. I called around and found that there was an appointment early (for me) on Friday morning, as luck would have it.

I set my alarm the night before, but it didn't go off because I'd set up my clock off by 12 hours when I moved in. Oops. Fortunately, Kelly gets up early for work anyway, so she asked me "When's your appointment again?" early enough that I could do the morning gig and get to the appointment.

I really should've headed to the ENT rather than my primary care office after the first round of treatment didn't solve the whole problem. They've got a whole bunch of fancy ear tools, including long tweezers that go through the otoscope and a device that amounts to an ear vacuum. She quickly concluded that the big black hunks of goo in my ears were fungal, which clearly explains the ineffectiveness of my week of antibiotics. After removing large chunks she sprayed white antifungal powder in my ears and told me to keep them dry. Now that's something I've never had before :-)

I asked if my psoriatic arthritis might have played a role in this ear inflammation and debris buildup. The PA said that psoriasis can lead to ear issues, but that my case didn't look related. That's definitely a relief, because I was really not looking forward to my ears pulling my neck and screaming at my brain as a chronic condition.

So for the last day and a half, my left ear has been refreshingly clear and able to hear while my right ear has been ringing (though not as loudly as it was) and has reduced hearing capacity but gracefully no pain. My neck, shoulders, and jaw have also been refreshingly loose today. I've got a followup on Wednesday before I head to Apogaea where the PA will clean up the antifungal powder and take another look. Hopefully this ringing is just a little more debris stuck to the drum.

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Letter to My Senators: FARMERS FIRST Act and Climate Stress

Dear Senator (Gardner | Bennet),

Thank you for introducing the bipartisan FARMERS FIRST Act to help ensure that agricultural workers have access to mental health care. Farming is both physically and emotionally taxing and the year-to-year risks that agricultural producers face can bring emotional stress to the breaking point.

As Colorado, and the world, grows warmer, the effects of climate change will further compound the physical and mental stresses on farmers in the state. First, heat waves are correlated with an increase in negative mental health events and acts of aggression and violence. Second, we have already experienced more frequent extreme weather events and greater variation in surface water availability due to increased temperatures, reduced snowpack, and less predictable precipitation. These factors are likely to increase the risk of crop failures, putting farms and farmers at risk. Third, the long-term effects of a warmer climate like earlier seasonal onset, warmer diurnal temperatures, and insect infestations (like the pine beetle unchecked by cold winters) will force many farmers to abandon crops they have grown for generations.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to put the breaks on climate change and keep temperatures from running away faster than we can adapt. Climate change legislation should be one of Congress’s top priorities this year and next, and Colorado’s interests should be represented as bills are crafted. I urge you to take action in at least the following two ways.

First, please ensure programs to address climate change are part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Agriculture is on the front lines of climate change and agricultural producers have some of the best opportunities to make a meaningful difference in greenhouse gasses. Congress should sponsor research, development, and experimentation of ag practices which can sequester carbon, reduce methane, increase yields, and save money on inputs. Congress should also find ways to incentivize expanding America’s great forests: it’s hard to find a more effective way to remove carbon dioxide from the air than trees.

Second, I urge you to cosponsor a bill enacting a market-based climate change solution like carbon fee and dividend. A national program to price the externalities of greenhouse gas emissions is likely the most effective action that we can take to keep the climate stable and avoid major disruption to daily life that we risk with unchecked global warming. A price on carbon would spur American innovation, create clean energy jobs, and improve our quality of life.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter and your dedicated service to Colorado,
Trevor Stone

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Close Enough for Government Work

While poking through papers the previous homeowners left, I noticed the well permit change of address form with a sticky note saying to check the website in a few weeks. So I poked around the Division of Water Resources website and found the document history for our well permit.

Except… the dates looked a little funny, relative to the construction of the house. And then I noticed that the address on the original permit is down the block, where the north-south street bends into my east-west street. "Huh, did that person own two houses on the same block?" I wondered. So I poked around the County Recorder's website (and used Chrome developer tools to make the document viewer useful). The names didn't line up either.

Then I took a closer look at the well permit's legal description. "Lot 5, block 8, Country Club Park." Isn't that my legal description? I checked the assessor's website again. Oh, wait, I'm (part of) "Lot 5, block 8, Country Club Park Partial Replat." Totally different numbering lot sequence! But Block 8 is still contiguous. And someone at the State probably didn't know the finer points of Boulder County subdivision plats, so they saw "Lot 5, block 8, Country Club Park" and matched 'em up. I wonder if our neighbors have a record of their well permit. I'm not sure how much I care about fixing this.

Other fun discoveries from the plat maps:
  • Our subdivision was planned to have two parks (one surrounded by "Meadow Drive," the other by "Parkway Drive," natch). It currently has zero parks, and the Parkway Drive park is an island of six houses.
  • This stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue was to be called Redwood Avenue, but I guess that ran into trouble when they got to "R" in the alphabetical tree-themed street names zone in north Boulder.
  • 55th Street was called "Roxwood Road," which seems an odd choice for a straight north-south thoroughfare in a town with a numbered north-south grid.
  • The original plat had a row of houses with driveways along Baseline. They would not have enjoyed commuting or throwing parties.

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Direct Marketing Fail

Today I received a glossy mailing from a real estate agent addressed to the folks who sold us their house a month ago. The flyer starts "Selling a home in East Boulder requires extensive local knowledge, a great marketing plan, and superior negotiation skills." It then lists several houses currently for sale or under contract. Finally it lists five recently sold houses… including the one we just bought.

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Remove the Stone of Moving; Attach the Stone of Unpacking

The timing of the whole house buying process has worked out exquisitely.

For awhile we've been talking about buying a house this spring. Last year we let our landlord know that we'd like to go month-to-month when our lease was up. But since the purchase process was really smooth, we didn't need it. We're officially moved out of Lucky Gin, and it's approximately as clean as it was when we moved in.

We smartly gave ourselves a month to move, closing on the house on the first Monday of March. That provided a weekend for moving essentials and compactly stacking boxed media, a weekend for friends and family and several large vehicles, a weekend for professional movers to pick up the heavy and/or bulky, and a week and a Saturday for all the random things that have somehow escaped packing, discarding 3-year-old containers hiding in the fridge, and extensive cleaning.

Smooth timing was a theme in the house search process, too. The first two open house we tried to go to were closed. The first one we successfully visited was super fun and we got a good vibe from the seller's realtors. We met with those two at the beginning of the year and decided to "go out with them" for a while. And although I was prepared to spend months to a year looking for a house that met our needs, timing lucked out such that we bought a house that we saw on the second weekend of outings. Total time between purchasing Buying Your First Home and actually buying our first home: less than three months.

Another timing irony, or manifestation if you prefer: for several years I had a bunch of money in a money market account rather than a higher-interest CD because I was usually in a state of "Maybe next year will be the time to buy a house." In early 2017 I decided that pattern was clearly silly, so I poked around and found that I was eligible for a credit union with a 1% APR 1-year CD and figured one year would be a good time for a house purchase, relative to the lease schedule. Getting the account set up and money moved in took a week or two longer than I expected, so the maturity date was March 8th, a bit later in the year than I was hoping. But as luck would have it, the house cost a couple hundred thousand dollars less than I was expecting to pay, so I didn't have to use any of the money from the CD. The kicker, of course, is that a couple months after I opened the CD, the savings account's interest rate increased such that I would've made more money by keeping it totally liquid.

Fortunately, we now never* need to move again.
Well, except moving all the stuff in the garage (there's a single-human-width path down the middle) into the house, unboxing it, and moving the items destined for a garage sale back into the garage.

Some people think it's a great idea to have a yard sale before you move. I disagree: when there's a deadline on the move, it takes much less time to pack items without evaluating them, and you save on the time and stress of having all the unwanted items identified by a Saturday that you could use schlepping boxes instead. It seems much less stressful to carefully consider an item fetched from the garage, figure out how it might fit into a new space, and not announce a sale until all of the unnecessary items have accumulated.

* Well, until it's time to retire to Moloka'i or move into an ALF.

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Getting Wired for a Transfer

On Monday we're signing a bunch of documents and an escrow company will move a whole bunch of money around between accounts and we're going to move some essentials into a house and change the locks.

I would feel significantly less nervous about this if I'd received final amounts and money wiring instructions by now. I usually assume that data networks between banks are made of molasses, so moving a few bytes from one bank to another takes two days and COBOL code doesn't run on weekends. So I've had over a quarter million dollars sitting around in a couple accounts for a month and I'm getting nervous, because moving $250,000 from place to place is a lot harder than moving $25.

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FAQ Tells it Like it Is

From Answers to Questions About the National Flood Insurance Program
Q. Does my Homeowner Policy cover flood damage?
A. Your Homeowners Insurance does not cover floods. Floods can happen anytime, anywhere. They cause physical, emotional, and financial anguish especially when victims realize the damage is not covered by their homeowner’s insurance policy.

Insurance documents aren’t normally the place to turn for zingers.

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Coconut Porter

When we were in Maui last October, Maui Brewing Company had a limited-edition Imperial Coconut Porter on tap that was blissfully delicious and at least twice as wonderful as their usual coconut porter. The ICP was so good that it tasted like coffee and I liked that about it. It also tasted like chocolate and coconut and several other things if you held it on your tongue long enough.

I'd been wanting to try brewing a dark beer this winter and after that heavenly taste I determined to make a coconut porter. I had no illusions that it would be as wonderful as the one from Maui, but anywhere in that ballpark should be tasty.

I poked around the Internet to get a sense of the ingredients that other folks used in coconut porters and then went to the friendly local homebrew store. I didn't have a planned recipe, so I spent probably ten minutes smelling tubs of dry malt and imagining their combined flavor. I ended up with a pound of chocolate malt (600–700°L), half a pound of 80°L crystal malt, half a pound of flaked oats, and four pounds of "golden light" liquid malt extract. (°L is a measure of color. I described the wort as "dark chocolate" and the final brew as "light black.") I stopped by Whole Foods for two pounds of flaked coconut and twelve ounces of honey which I managed to spill on the bulk food scale and then improperly label with a PLU code.

I'd been planning to add a pound of blackstrap molasses as well to add some more dark sugar to the mix. And when I was gathering ingredients for the wort I noticed that I'd had a jar of carob molasses sitting around that I bought over a year ago, figuring I'd use it in some kind of beer. It's dark and sweet, so in it goes!

After primary fermentation I racked the beer into a glass carboy and then dumped in roasted coconut flakes through a funnel. It turned out that 5 gallons of beer plus two pounds of flakes doesn't leave much headroom in a 5-gal carboy. In the first hour I watched the wet coconut push dangerously far up the neck of the glass. Remembering stories of exploding carboys when a brew gets up to the seal, I used the thief to draw out some liquid on the inside and coconut stuck to the outside. The next morning I woke to find chocolate-covered beer pushing up through the airlock and spilling onto the table. I was actually relieved by that state, since it didn't involve explosive glass shards. The mouth of a carboy is, unfortunately, narrower than a spoon, so the best tool I could find was a metal kebab skewer which I used to move some coconut mass around and open up air pathways.

Fortunately the secondary fermentation wasn't very active, so I didn't have to reengage with battle with the coconut monster until bottling. With about two gallons left in the carboy, we were suspicious that the syphon would get surrounded by coconut gunk and leave stranded beer. We poured from the carboy through a strainer into a pot, which was remarkably effective. We got a nice bowl of alcoholic coconut to much on, a fairly sediment-free final syphoning, and a carboy plastered with coconut:
[Dark beer and a messy carboy full of coconut flakes]
The rest of bottling was mostly uneventful until small coconut flakes clogged up the bottling wand with about three bottles worth of beer left. I tried switching to the pinch-the-hose technique which is harder than it sounds and ended up with a decent amount of beer on the floor. (I don't think I've had a bottling evening that didn't end up with alcohol on the floor. Our dining room is blessed.) I did have the presence of mind to use the hose's position relative to the syphon point to stop and start flow, which was sufficient to fill a bottle or so.

Also, the plastic bottle tree I got from a coworker makes the bottle drying and at-hand-for-filling really slick:
[Drying tree full of bottles]

Ingredient list:
5 gal Water
4 lbs CBW Golden Light liquid malt extract
1 lbs Crisp Malting chocolate malt 600-700L
8 oz flaked oats
8.5 oz Briess Malting caramel/crystal malt 80L
12 oz Colorado honey
1.3 lbs Plantation blackstrap unsulphured molasses
1.5 lbs Al Wadi Al Akhdar carob molasses
1 oz northern brewer hops
1 oz santiam hops
0.25 tsp Irish moss
2 lbs roasted flaked coconut
White Labs WLP80 cream ale yeast blend

The friend who helped me bottle declared that it tasted like "tart coconut." I'm very pleased with the coconut presence (though a pound would've made for less mess and still plenty of taste). There's a good dark malt flavor, though I don't taste a lot of chocolate, coffee, or other notes. It's not bitter yet also not very sweet.

Anon, anon! I pray you, remember the porter.

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Weeks of Adulting Responsibly

I started a more narrative version of this post, but got pulled into adulting matters instead, so here's the bullet points of what I've been up to for the last month and a half.
  • Writing a document with what we requirements, preferences, and perks we'd want in a house
  • Reading about the process of buying a house
  • Looking at houses on real estate websites
  • Pre-applying for a loan up to a million dollars
  • Going to open houses
  • Remembering that my passport was about to expire; renewing it
  • Not buying literally the first house we looked at, even though it was really fun and in a great spot
  • Getting a code volunteer oriented to the Ranger software system
  • Celebrating holidays with family and friends
  • Sorting out a new PHP framework because the original new fancy framework we were going to use for the Ranger system is deprecated
  • Moving back to my old office building, unsubscribing from old team mailing lists, stumbling my way through Android codelabs
  • Meeting with potential buyers' realtors
  • Meeting with an elder law attorney to help my parents develop an estate plan
  • Receiving my passport in just two weeks, before the government could shut down
  • Looking at houses with realtors
  • Looking at more houses on the internet; not being able to sleep due to imagining living in a particular interesting house
  • Making spreadsheets of house price, down payment, and monthly cost scenarios
  • Looking at more houses with realtors
  • Studying the Boulder County floodplain maps
  • Reading a real estate contract
  • Making an offer on a house that meets almost all of our desires except "not in a floodplain"
  • Buying a pie to celebrate offer acceptance
  • Writing a $20,000 check for escrow
  • Awkwardly knocking on future neighbors' doors and saying hello
  • Reading legal documents
  • Reading loan documents
  • Signing loan documents
  • Getting quotes for hazard and flood insurance
  • Having a kickoff meeting for further adventures in climate outreach
  • Observing a home inspector poke and prod at a house, crawling around in two fairly comfortable crawl spaces
  • Reading inspection findings
  • Leafing through a homeowner's well-organized invoices
  • Reminding my mom to send life insurance details to the attorney
The next two months look pretty adulty, too.

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